Lesson 18B Preview: Document from The Council of Chalcedon on “…The Divine and Human Natures in the Person of Christ”; the Monophysite Controversy and the Council of Chalcedon; Video on “Seven Ecumenical Councils”; Pastor Nick Needham Audio Lecture “The Value of Church History”
from the Council of Chalcedon, 451 A.D., Act V
Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance (homoousios) with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer (Theotokos); one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the Fathers has handed down to us.
Concerning the Approaching Orthodox-Monophysite Union
[From the September 1971 issue of the Newsletter Supplement to The Orthodox Christian Witness]
“…For any traditional Orthodox, it is evident that the reestablishment of Communion with the Monophysites depends on their acceptance of the Seven Holy Ecumenical Councils as Orthodox and Divinely-inspired, and their repudiation of the heresy preached by their fathers, such as Dioscorus of Alexandria and Severus of Antioch (both of whom were condemned by the Ecumenical Councils). Were the Monophysites of today to do this, there would indeed be great Joy in heaven and we would embrace them as beloved brethren in the faith. The Geneva and Addis-Ababa consultations however, show that the Monophysites have absolutely no intention of doing so; they are as opposed as ever to Chalcedon and the three Holy Ecumenical Councils that followed. To show their unanimous enmity toward Chalcedon we shall quote their own words:
“Prof. Karmiris wants that a new formula should be developed; but let us be quite clear that that should not be an attempt to get the non-Chalcedonians to accept Chalcedon.” (Bishop Theophiles of South India, p. 29)
“In the thirteenth century an Armenian Catholic agreed to accept Chalcedon but he was killed by the people”. (Dr. Krikorian, Armenia, p. 29)
“Within the last five years a bishop of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was suspended from his bishopric because something he wrote lent itself to be interpreted as an acceptance of Chalcedon.” (Rev. Joseph, South India, p, 29)
“Here I have the feeling that one side (i.e. the Eastern Orthodox) is assuming that they have a monopoly of the truth and think the other side should admit error.” (Abba Degou, Ethiopia, p. 29)
“Our fathers found Nestorianism in the horos (i.e. doctrinal definition) of Chalcedon. We cannot accept any expression that lends itself to be interpreted as a duality in the person of Jesus Christ…Even if we accept the teaching of Chalcedon we are not obliged to accept Chalcedon.” (Bishop Gregories (Copt), p. 30)
“We have always held that Chalcedon was not ecumenical. By all means, you continue to believe in Chalcedon; but do not expect us to accept Chalcedon.” (Mariam of Ethiopia, p. 30)
“Let us be quite clear; Chalcedon is not acceptable to us.” (Bishop Zakka, Syrian Monophysite, pp. 30-31)
“There should be no misunderstanding of the position of the non-Chalcedonian Churches; there will be no formal acceptance of Chalcedon.” (Fr. Verghese, South India, p. 31)…”
David Withun’s next video lecture Seven Ecumenical Councils offers a rapid, succinct overview of the numerous doctrines considered at the different councils over the centuries ( Please note that Withun inadvertently says the Council of Chalcedon was held in 431. In a footnote to the video he corrects himself: it was held in 451.):
Pastor Nick Needham, senior pastor of Reformed Baptist Church, Inverness, Scotland and Professor of Church History at Highland Theological College, Dingwall, Scotland, presents a lecture on The Value of Church History, why Christians today must study church history. Dr. Needham, whose great interest he reveals is in the history of the early church, argues that we can not discuss Christ, especially with non-Christians, until we understand the facts of church history and the Person of Christ.
Quote for Your Consideration: “Against Pelagianism in every form we hold on the basis of Scripture that the divine Redeemer had to be true man in order that He might perform the stupendous work of redemption…Hence the denial of Christ’s true humanity is tantamount to the denial of His vicarious atonement…”(John Theodore Mueller, Christian Dogmatics, p. 258)
Discussion Questions for Lesson 18B:
1. The Chalcedonian Definition above states in reference to Our Lord Jesus Christ “truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body…” What is intended with the phrase “reasonable soul and body”? Why was this deemed essential for the Definition?
2. Recall in Lesson 16B, we discussed the following question: A student in your Sunday School class says, “I have in my NIV Study Bible the words of our Lord in red ink. Is there any problem with my going through these passages in my daily Bible study and assigning them to either the Divine Christ or Jesus the Man?” Do you see this question differently now? In light of the theological conflicts occurring in the Ecumenical Councils, and the decisions made, how should we today respond? How would an instructor in the fifth century Catechetical School of Alexandria respond? How would an instructor in the Catechetical School of Antioch deal with this question?
3. The document above Concerning the Approaching Orthodox-Monophysite Union (from the Orthodox Christian Witness, 1971) references the heretical teachings of Dioscorus and Severus, two figures discussed by Olson, and their having been “condemned by the Ecumenical Councils”. Why exactly were they condemned? How would the leadership of the Oriental Orthodox Churches (some of whom are quoted above) view these two prelates of the past?
5. A series of quotes from modern monophysite Christian leaders of the middle east and southeast Asia regions (the Oriental Orthodox Churches) are presented in the Orthodox Christian Witness above. How would you summarize the written responses of these leaders as they react to the ecumenical outreach of the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church?
6. Pastor Nick Needham quotes C.S. Lewis on his consideration of “old books” vs “new books”. Lewis believed that we should first read the old books. Why? What was Lewis’ rationale for preferring the old books over the new? How did Lewis and Needham tie this belief to the concept of “provincialism”?
7. Dr. Needham cites three reasons why we need to know the saints who have gone before us and the history of church theology they produced. What are the three reasons?
8. While crossing your church campus one Sunday morning you encounter an old friend and exchange a few pleasantries. He finally blurts out, ” I understand you guys in the Good Egg Bible Study are going through a book that’s about church history and theology. Why are you spending your time on that and not the Bible? Do you think that stuff’s going to make you a better Christian? Aren’t you just reading about Catholics and their hair-splitting?” In light of what you have studied, and the lectures you have listened to, how might you respond to these issues?